Watch for: Nanaimo’s multi-award-winning Wellington Jazz Academy

Wellington Secondary students, directed by award-winning Canadian music director Carmella Luvisotto, perform their Winter Concert.
Students hold instruments in a band room.
The Senior Combo features Garret Tomkins on drums, Thea Guitard on trombone, Elijah Geddes on flue, Koen Podritske on bass and Sarah Stevenson on piano. Photo courtesy of Carmella Luvisotto

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Nanaimo’s Wellington Secondary School Winter Band Concert is here to treat our community to a fabulous toe-tapping concert featuring jazz, concert band music and holiday season favourites, Tuesday, Dec. 13 at 7 p.m. by donation.

Concert spotlights will include award-winning Grade 8 to 12 students, aged 13 to 17, part of the Wellington Jazz Academy.

The funds raised by Wellington Secondary School concerts cover program costs and go directly back to the music program. The Friends of Nanaimo Jazz Society also funds Wellington Secondary School music scholarship and workshop opportunities for music students in Nanaimo.  

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“We’ve been super happy that they have supported us,” says jazz director Carmella Luvisotto, who invites award-winning visiting jazz artists to the program to instruct the students such as Cory Weeds, Christine and Ingrid Jensen, Bria Skonberg, Harold Mabern, Terell Stafford and other celebrities.

The concert funds raised will assist with the numerous costs of running an in-depth and internationally recognized music instructional program.

“We plan to travel this year, and to attend as many festivals and opportunities that we’re able to,” says Luvisotto, pointing to the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival held in Idaho, U.S.

“Plans are just to persevere ahead and try to be able to provide the students with opportunities that we did pre-COVID Because we’d like to get back to normal and get there. And we’re on our way.” 

In 2021, Luvisotto was the winner of Canada’s top prize, the Tommy Banks/National Arts Centre Orchestra Outstanding Jazz Director Award.  

As one of Canada’s most devoted educators, she is recognized for creating award-winning music students who are exceptional performers. 

Born and raised in Nanaimo, Luvisotto learned to love music, and jazz particularly, through her father Fred Luvisotto, one of the first teachers to introduce band into the city’s elementary curriculum. 

She began playing piano at age seven and clarinet at age 12, and further credits the teaching and mentorship of high school band teachers.

Carmella studied in the Malaspina jazz program (now Vancouver Island University) under Steve Jones and in the University of Victoria music education program. She continues to collaborate and teach with both Steve Jones and Bryan Stovell.

Carmella Luvisotto, a white woman with chestnut brown hair in loose curls, wearing a green long sleeve shirt with floral lace designs, sits behind a shiny black grand piano. There is paper in front of her and she is holding a pencil about to mark something. The lid of the piano is raised, and you can see just the top bit of her reflection in the shiny underside. She is smiling and looking directly at the camera.
“Over the years we’ve had Harold Mabern. And we’ve had Terell Stafford, we’ve had Bria Skonberg. Last year, we were able to have Benny Benack III from New York,” says Luvisotto. Image by Dirk Heydemann of HA Photography.

In October, students applied to be in honour jazz and vocal jazz choir bands for the BC Music Educators Conference, Luvisotto explains. “Four of my students were able to partake in those ensembles,” says Luvisotto. The students also picked up awards at international competitions that were restructured online due to the pandemic. 

The Wellington Secondary School music program is intricate with various instructional layers and offers deep immersion into music, Luvisotto explains.

“Students come into the program in Grade 8 and they are introduced to concert band, where the students either have had some playing experience or no playing experience at all.”

Six students play various instruments in a large music classroom. Three studnets standing on the left side of the photo, facing to the right of the photographer, play brass instruments. In the center of the picture, facing left, a student plays drums and another plays electric bass. To the right of the photo a student sits at a grand piano facing the piano music stand.
Left to right: Charlotte Wilson, Rachel Stevenson, Caitlyn Watts, Rowan Long. Photo courtesy of Carmella Luvisotto

Concert band is a style that functions in the “classical music” tradition where musicians read music and perform the music as written. Jazz ensembles not only perform written music, but also rely on sections of improvisation, which provides the students with the technique and classical music understanding that is so needed to be able to play jazz, she adds.

“And from those classes, I provide performance opportunities outside of the timetable for students that are interested in jazz to start a little jazz combo so they can find out what it’s like to try jazz because in the latter years at Wellington, there’s a lot more intensity and involvement with the jazz genre music.”

For students in Grade 9 to 12, junior jazz band students team up with other instrumentalists and practice outside of regular school hours.

“By the time we get to be [in Grade 11 and 12] it’s really wonderful to see the combinations of groups that come out of the many years they’ve been playing together,” says Luvisotto. 

Guest teachers such as Steve Jones, Brian Stovell and Cory Weeds come in and work with the students. “It’s not always about performers, it’s also about master educators that have been around for a long time providing their knowledge to students,” she adds.

“I find that bringing people into the classroom has given the students some different ideas. It’s given me different ideas. It has also helped motivate the students to try something different or see what they can do in the future.”

A white man with short white hair wearing a purple tuxedo plays the saxophone. Behind and to the left of him, an Asian man wearing glasses and a black tuxedo plays the bass.
“I really like working with Cory Weeds over in Vancouver…he loves to support the students and the schools so that’s great,” says Luvisotto. Shown left, bassist John Lee. Shown right, saxophonist and Cellar Live record label owner Cory Weeds. Photo by Kerilie McDowall

Always achieving excellence is on the list with Luvisotto, and some of her teaching secrets are about good old “elbow grease.“ 

“I’m always looking for something new or something different so that I can further educate the students and keep up with the times,” she says.

This includes exposing students to different styles of jazz. “It’s just reaching out and not just being stuck in the music room but going beyond the music room and seeing what’s there,” says the jazz director.

To catch these young rising stars and support them in their efforts to continue with their music careers, you can attend concerts and pitch in financially to the music school with an e-transfer to [email protected].  

Wellington Secondary School music director Carmella Luvisotto and her students look forward to entertaining you Tuesday, Dec. 13 at Wellington Secondary School’s gym at 3135 Mexicana Road, Nanaimo, 7 p.m. Admission is by donation.

Three rows of students sit in chairs on increasingly raised platforms, allowing the row behind to look over the row in front. All students are playing an instrument, some of which are flutes, trombones, saxophones, and electric bass. In front of each student is a music stand. In the center of the half circle is another music stand with sheet music showing.
Wellington Secondary Senior Concert Band. Photo courtesy of Carmella Luvisotto

The Discourse congratulates these Wellington Secondary School winners:


SILVER: Grade 9 Jazz Combo, Grade 9/10 Jazz Band, Grade 10 Jazz Combo, Grade 11/12 Jazz Band, Grade 11/12 Jazz Combo, Hassib Pearce Guitard Gress Combo. GOLD: Grade 11 Jazz Combo, Hassib Pearce Shinya Tomkins, Guitard Geddes Gress Pearce Quintet, Stevenson Pearce Duo. 

MUSICFEST HONOUR AWARDS: Rowan Spearing, Josh Smiley, Teagan White, Sandro Jost, Elijah Geddes, Koen Podritske, Thea Guitard, Jonathan Pearce, Sarah Stevenson, Kareem Hassib.

MUSICFEST INDIVIDUAL AWARD WINNERS: Ellison Travel,  Ranee Lee Vocal Scholarship – Sarah Stevenson, Dream Cymbals Outstanding Big Band Drummer Award- Cole Tomkins.

LIONEL HAMPTON JAZZ FESTIVAL WINNERS: This past weekend, the annual Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival took place in Moscow, Idaho. While students were not able to attend in-person, students and groups sent in recordings to participate virtually and came out with high honours. 

Congrats to Grade 11 Vocalist Sarah Stevenson, Grade 11 trombonist Thea Guitard, Grade 11 flute player Elijah Geddes, bass player Jonathan Pearce and the entire Wellington Grade 11/12 Senior Jazz Band.

A white girl in a black dress sits beside a grand piano, arm resting on the keys. One leg is crossed over the other, and she is wearing flats. To the right and in front of her is a white boy in a white button up shirt. He is standing beside and holding a bass. Both are smiling and looking at the camera.
Sarah Stevenson and Jonathan Pearce, Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival Winners. Photo courtesy of Carmella Luvisotto

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